Sheriff Joe Arpaio Doesn’t Want 'Birther' Issue in Debate

Spokesman says Arizona sheriff doesn't feel issue of Obama's birthplace should be raised

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Despite his dogged pursuit of conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama's birth certificate, Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio isn't encouraging Mitt Romney to champion the cause of the so-called "birther" movement during Wednesday night's presidential debate.

According to a spokesman, Arpaio -- who last year appointed a "cold case posse" to inspect Obama's birth certificate and in March held a press conference at which he declared the document "a computer-generated forgery" -- doesn't think debate moderators should broach the topic either.

"Sheriff Joe Arpaio says he does not feel it is appropriate to advise Mr. Romney on what questions to pose to the president during this important debate," said spokesman Lisa Allen. Asked if Arpaio would like moderators to inquire about the birth certificate, Allen merely responded, "No."

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Arpaio's non-advocacy is unusual for the boisterous, tough-on-crime law enforcement boss. After Obama released his long-form Hawaii birth certificate in April 2011, Arpaio became a champion of the "birther" movement, whose members insist that Obama was born abroad and thus is ineligible to be president of the United States. Arpaio called on Congress to initiate its own probe of Obama's birthplace.

In his March press conference announcing the result of his posse's investigation, Arpaio alleged that two felonies -- "forgery and fraud" -- had been committed and said that "those responsible, whoever they are, should be brought to justice."

"I can't let it die, we have evidence," Arpaio told an audience of skeptical reporters. "We have quite a bit more information."

One reason for Arpaio's uncharacteristic caution before tonight's debate may be that a question about the issue could force Romney to deliver a highly public rebuke to the movement, rather than provide more ammunition for birthers. Romney has repeatedly said he believes Obama was born in the United States.

Steven Nelson writes for U.S News & World Report. Follow him on Twitter